Defence Calls for Trbic Acquittal

It says prosecution failed to prove case against client.

Defence Calls for Trbic Acquittal

It says prosecution failed to prove case against client.

Saturday, 3 October, 2009

The defence of Milorad Trbic, a Bosnian Serb indicted for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Hercegovina, called this week for all charges against its client to be dropped.

"The Bosnia and Hercegovina Prosecutor's Office failed to prove the participation of Milorad Trbic in the imprisonment, execution and burial of Srebrenica victims in July 1995," the defence said in its closing arguments at the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber.

In July 1995, some 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were killed after the United Nations-protected enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.

At that time, Trbic was the assistant commander of security in the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS.

He was originally charged at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, along with former senior Bosnian Serb police and army officers Vinko Pandurevic, Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic, Drago Nikolic and Vujadin Popovic.

The seven are on trial for murder, persecutions, forcible transfer and deportation committed in the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995, while all but Miletic and Gvero are also accused of extermination and genocide-related charges. The prosecution and defence presented their closing arguments in the case in September this year, and a verdict is due in a few months' time.

Trbic, whose case was transferred to the Bosnian court from the Hague tribunal in June 2007, is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions and forcible transfer.

The indictment against Trbic states that he was involved in two separate, but linked joint criminal plans, along with Bosnian Serb general and war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, to expel the Muslim population from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves and “to murder all the able-bodied men captured from the Srebrenica enclave”.

It says that some members of his brigade collaborated with other members of the VRS and the Bosnian Serb police in committing mass executions, as well as in the forcible transfer of the Bosniak population from Srebrenica.

The indictment also says that the accused personally participated in the execution of Bosniak men and tried to conceal evidence of killings committed in the Zvornik and Bratunac areas by overseeing and facilitating a major operation to rebury corpses.

"The prosecution failed to prove its thesis that the accused Milorad Trbic took part in the long planned policy aiming at creating an ethnically clean Serb region in [the Bosnian Serb entity] Republika Srpska," said defence attorney Milan Trbojevic.

He argued that many of those accused of war crimes committed during the Bosnian conflict were oblivious to the wartime policies of the Bosnian Serb leadership.

"The prosecution constantly ignores the most important fact that many of these people had no idea of any plans or any planned policy by the chief leadership of the Bosnian Serbs," he said.

"Furthermore, the prosecution's claim that the accused had a key role in this has not been proven, as it has not been based on valid and legitimate evidence," he added, referring to the implementation of the Bosnian Serb authorities' wartime policies.

The indictment states that Trbic – alongside other VRS soldiers – imprisoned some 15 Bosniaks on July 12, 1995, on the road between Potocari and Bratunac and took them to a building known as the White House (Bijela Kuca) in Potocari, where Trbic personally interrogated them.

It alleges that acting on the orders of Ljubisa Beara to summarily execute the men, Bosnian Serb troops took the Bosniaks to an area of Potocari and summarily executed them with an automatic rifle in the presence of Trbic, who supervised and directed the carrying out of the order.

But this week Trbojevic argued that while the indictment accused Trbic of taking part in a number of criminal incidents, prosecutors had not been able to prove during the course of the trial that he had participated in them.

Continuing his argument, the defence attorney said that among all the evidence presented during the trial, "there is no single piece of proof that on July 11, 1995, an order was issued for all men from Srebrenica to be imprisoned and executed".

Trbojevic also challenged the number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. He noted that the indictment against Trbic stated that just 3,737 victims had been identified, while arguing that nobody had tried to determine the time and cause of death in those cases.

Trbojevic then turned to the charge of forcible transfer, saying that while the population had been transferred out of the enclave, this was done for humanitarian reasons.

"It should be said that the transfer of the population there – as outlined in the indictment – wasn't necessarily committed with the aim of ethnic cleansing, but represented a humanitarian evacuation of the population," he said.

To support this argument, he cited the testimony of numerous witnesses in the case about the difficult humanitarian situation in Srebrenica at that time.

Trbic, in a statement to the trial chamber, said he was innocent of all the charges.

At the time in question, he was only carrying out his duties according to precisely defined rules and criteria, he said.

"I hope that this trial chamber will, from all the evidence presented, deduce only the real truth, as I believe in the honour of the judges and expect them to provide a fair trial. I am not afraid of the truth and I believe it to be on my side," he said.

The state prosecution had previously presented its closing arguments in the trial in August this year, calling on the court to sentence Trbic to a maximum term of 45 years' imprisonment.

Presiding judge Davorin Jukic said that a verdict would be given on October 16, 2009.

The Bosnian court confirmed the original indictment brought by Hague prosecutors against Trbic on July 27, 2007.

On August 9, 2007, the accused failed to appear to enter a plea and the court recorded a plea of not guilty on his behalf. The trial began in November that year.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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